Top bureaucrats are thwarting investigation into transport entrepreneurs, officials sayAt least six office-bearers of former transport committees have been under investigation since last year.
Around half a dozen people associated with transport committees engaged in syndicates are under investigation by the Department of Money Laundering Investigation for the past year. However, the investigation has hardly made any progress because there is enormous pressure from the higher authorities to drop the probe, according to officials overseeing the case.
The department had initiated an investigation after the National Vigilance Centre, a corruption watchdog under the Prime Minister’s Office, recommended a probe into the properties owned by office-bearers of several transport committees. Many of these former committees have since converted themselves into companies, as prescribed by a government policy implemented last year.
“There has been pressure from a higher level to give up the investigation on several individuals,” said a senior official who works at the Prime Minister's Office. “There is political pressure on the department coming from top bureaucratic level.” The official, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, did not disclose the identity of the authorities who have demanded that the department dismiss its probe.
Another senior government official involved in the investigation team independently confirmed to the Post that “bureaucrats at the top” were making every attempt to thwart the probe.
When asked about the status of the investigation, Roop Narayan Bhattarai, director general at the Department of Money Laundering Investigation, said he didn’t want to speak on the issue. “I can’t discuss individual cases,” he said.
Bhattarai, who played a key role in cracking down the transport syndicates when he was the director-general of the Department of Transport Management, was transferred from that office amid intense lobbying by transport entrepreneurs.
At least six senior office-bearers of the erstwhile transport bodies—Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs Association, Araniko Transport Committee, Prithvi Highway Transport Committee, Narayani Transport Committee, Nepal Petroleum Dealers’ Association, Western Region Highway Transport Committees—are being investigated for money laundering, according to an official at the Prime Minister’s Office. The individuals have not been named.
The government had started a crackdown on transport syndicates by first amending Transport Management Regulation in April last year, telling them to register them as companies. But the transport committees announced nationwide protest plans and vandalised a number of vehicles owned by new transport companies.
In response, on May 4 last year, a meeting of government officials chaired by Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa announced it was freezing bank accounts of the transport committees that are running syndicates. The meeting also decided to investigate transport entrepreneurs to see if they have earned money illegally.
When asked about the probe, Saroj Sitaula, immediate general secretary of the former Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs Association, told the Post he had no information about any transport entrepreneur being interrogated by the Department of Money Laundering Investigation.
“When we were protesting against the government’s move to scrap transport committees, I heard that we were being investigated,” Sitaula, who is also a promoter of newly registered Samyukta Yatayat, told the Post. “But I don’t know if there has been any investigation from the department on transport entrepreneurs.”
After the decisions made during last year’s meeting, the central bank froze 245 bank accounts of at least 200 transport committees. But the government later decided to unfreeze their accounts after the committees registered themselves as companies.
A Cabinet meeting earlier this month decided to facilitate the transfer of funds of frozen bank accounts to the new accounts of the newly-registered transport companies. According to the Office of Company Registrar, around 118 transport committees out of 292 identified by the government registered as companies by June 1, 2019—the deadline set by the amended Company Act.
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